In an interview with Adam Curtis for the BBC about his new documentary on 16th October 2016, when exploring the notion of whether ‘individualism and self-expressionism can change the world’ Curtis comments on the rise of individualism and the mood of our society, stating:
“I as an individual are the most important thing and what I feel, what I want, is the most truthful, authentic and right thing and the idea that you should be told what to do, by politicians, by those in power over you is wrong, it’s inauthentic, you should be true to yourself.”
Curtis in this example is talking about a giant shift that started in the late 1960’s but later took off in the 1970’s. A rise of powerful individualism, a feeling that spread throughout western society. Curtis also makes the case that individualism was good in many ways, that it liberated people and stopped us being told what to do by old, corrupt elites. Curtis goes on to say. ‘It had a very strange effect on politics because if you run a political party, you have to get people together, united in a single goal. But if you’ve got a society of millions of individuals, who all have their own desires, their own truths, their own idea of what is true. Then it is very difficult to get a collective movement together.’
Although Curtis is explaining the mood of culture during the 70’s and the rise of individualism, it’s clear that this ideology has risen up and taken new, more extreme forms throughout our society. Curtis speaks broadly on this topic throughout his films and interviews, but what he also talks about at great length is the relationship between popular culture and its links to society. The late Mark Fisher also writes about this topic in his book Capitalist Realism, connecting films and music to the moods and views of the public. In the Zero Books podcast, Doug Lain [Host] has spoken on many occasions drawing connections between popular TV shows such as Rick and Morty and Black Mirror but also looking at music such as the ghost of 80’s pop – Vaporwave. The interesting thing that their views have in common, is the sense of pessimism within our society, Curtis describes this pessimism as really rising during the 90’s and it would seem that this feeling has not disappeared, but in fact, we have grown more despaired at the state of politics and society, and one of the main reasons for this rise in pessimism is the ever-growing state of individualism. In an interview on Chapo Trap House Curtis talks more about political pessimism and individualism stating:
“Politicians, but we ourselves have retreated into a pessimistic vision of the world, and I think the reason for that was that somewhere in the late 1980’s, politicians gave up on having a picture of a better future. It happened for all sorts of reasons, it happened because of economic crisis, it happened also because of the rise of individualism, it’s very difficult to have one uniting vision when everyone wants to be an individual. But what replaced the idea – The old idea of going to build a better world, as you and me giving the politicians a vote, as that died away, what politicians turned to was, in order to keep power and their prestige in society they turned to the idea of risk, (I think risk is one of the real underlying things in our society that hasn’t been examined) – Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to take you to another world which is better’ what they said was ‘There are dark and terrifying things out there in the future’ coming towards us like some sort of dark, strange, hungry animals.”
Popular culture has become a reflection of our pessimism, but it also runs deeper, we are warned by politicians, scientist and experts about dangers hidden in the future, from terrorist sleeper cells, economic crisis and refuges, to dangers directly about ourselves on how we look and what we should and shouldn’t eat, our entire culture is drowning in pessimism as means to control and there is now no real vision of a better future; popular culture, the arts, mainstream media, all now reflect that pessimism that is fed to use by those experts and politicians adding fuel to the fire.
The only way it seems, to create real change, is through popular culture. The traditional arts have lost its power, mainstream media doesn’t have the trust from the public and we have to look for new ways to affect popular culture from the outside. It is possible that the answer may lie within independent publishing, and what I will call the individualism arts (which is basically, photographers, designers and illustrators etc. Who are all working individually, outside of collectives, communities and companies) and use political ideologies within the creative process. It is also possible that by adopting new models of work that incorporate individualism into collective movements, that a shift in the way a project is seen or produced will ultimately have an effect on real change and visions for the future. Participatory workflows that involve the community in both production and/or distribution, with potentially better guidelines to a more ethical work process for both parties [The public and the creators].
Collectivism not just as an alternative, but to work alongside the individual process could change the way we work as creative communities, they could be more inclusive without segregation, or corporate control, but also become different networks of communities that talk and work together adopting political and social ideologies that further better visions of the future.
Read below-adopting ideas and further linked articles from The Bottom Line.